The Annual Seat at the Table

  • Thanksgiving Dinner for the less fortunate: Giving thanks by giving back is a Thanksgiving tradition at Asbury Park’s ‘southern family style’ restaurant, At the Table.

For the fourth year in a row, homeless and senior citizens will head to the restaurant on the day before the holiday to sit, warm up, and eat heartily.

“It’s just our little give back to the community,” said Janice Murphy, the restaurant’s sole proprietor, head chef and manager, whose philanthropy comes through a network of community partnerships.

On Friday, she dropped off 25 turkeys — donated from local barber shops, family members and customers —  at Brookdale University’s Culinary School. The school, located adjacent to Asbury Park High School, is her Alma Mater. On Monday she will drop off her cornbread made from an old southern family recipe for students to make the stuffing from —because flavor matters above all. The work is all part of the student’s curriculum, she said.

She’ll pick up the cooked turkeys on Wednesday and starting at noon, Asbury Park High School cheerleaders and students involved with The Sportz Farm Foundation will volunteer their time to serve the food buffet-style to around 125 people, she said.

The students are excited about the opportunity and, for many, it will be their first community service experience, said Diteko Hammary, the organization’s founder and director.

“[We’re] thankful to participate in such an event as it demonstrates our belief that  ‘the more we help our community the more we help ourselves’,” Hammary said.

Murphy learned everything she knows about cooking from watching her grandmother and her mother cook, and from working at Ms. Clara’s in Neptune until the restaurant closed. It was always a dream of Murphy’s to own a restaurant, a vision she shared with her now 80-year-old mother, who flies in from Minnesota every summer to help out, she said.

The restaurant, located at 311 Bond Street, celebrated its fifth anniversary in July. It is family owned and operated by Murphy and her seven children. Her nieces assist with front-of-house duties and, at any given time, there are eight to nine people actively working. All of the recipes were passed down through generations. At the Table boasts the best fried chicken and mac and cheese dishes in the city, she said.

Recognizing trends toward more healthy food choices, Murphy has put her own healthy spin on the traditional recipes, she said. She doesn’t serve pork, offers baked chicken options along with traditional fried options, and cooks some of the greens in vegetable broth to cater to the city’s vegan population, she said.

Her concern for the community stretches past the holidays, as well.

She recently hired an Asbury Park High School dropout, Diron, who was featured on Dr. Steve Perry’s docudrama “Save My Son” on the TVONE network. Perry is an author and founder and principal of Capital Preparatory Magnet School in Hartford, Conn.

“If they don’t have a job they are going to be in the street, but if someone can offer them a job it will keep them focused. Diron was a knuclehead and now he’s a good kid, he’s like a part of the family,” she said.

If she had the business to employ more at-risk youth, she would. However, but the restaurant isn’t as busy as she’d like it to be even though its location on Bond Street has seen increased foot traffic as the city grows and more businesses owners open up in storefronts off of Cookman Avenue, she said.

“It’s tough to run a small business, especially when the economy is tough,” she said.

She remains hopeful that business will picks up and she looks forward to forging more relationships with community stakeholders and area youth, including starting a summer book club for the kids to help improve literacy rates in the city, she said.

At the Table is located at 311 Cookman Ave. Hours of operation are 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday; 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday; Sunday 2 p.m. to 7 p.m. [with all you can eat brunch or off-the-menu items.]

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